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Terror-supporting NGO advises Facebook on Israel content moderation

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Terror-supporting NGO advises Facebook on Israel content moderation

Organizations that celebrated terrorist attacks against Israelis and support boycotting Israel have advised Meta, Facebook’s parent company, on its content moderation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A report from NGO Monitor, which researches the activities and funding of organizations active in relation to the conflict and Israel, found that Meta and BSR, a company hired to evaluate its policies, had extensive interactions – regarding making decisions about what constitutes incitement against Israel – with organizations such as Human Rights Watch and 7amleh (pronounced “hamleh”) that have documented histories of anti-Israel campaigning.

The result is a report by BSR recommending, among other things, that more leeway be given for posts praising the terrorist group Hamas.

Emi Palmor, former Justice Ministry director-general and the only Israeli on Meta’s 18-member Oversight Board – which is meant to be the company’s “supreme court” – said “there is no doubt [that Israelis’] voices are not heard,” in part because pro-Israel organizations and figures don’t take part in the process even when they are invited to do so.

HRW and 7amleh, however, are well organized in the effort to influence Meta, leading an effort accusing the social media giant of silencing Palestinians and demanding a change in content moderation. They also appealed to the Oversight Board, which led the board to recommend that Facebook commission an independent report on the matter.

Police and rescue forces at the scene of a terror attack on Dizengoff street, in central Tel Aviv, March 9, 2023. (credit: ERIK MARMOR/FLASH90)

The company undertook a review of its policies following the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorists and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel. Facebook removed content promoting violence and supporting Hamas that was in violation of its community standards, which the NGOs said means they were silencing the Palestinians.

7amleh calls itself an “advocate for Palestinian digital rights,” but regularly celebrates terrorists and attacks against Israelis. It also advocates for boycotts of Israel and campaigned to have Palmor removed from the board. 7amleh is a “trusted partner” of Meta when it comes to content-related decisions in the region and a member of Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council.”

7amleh has a history of supporting terrorism against Israel

The NGO and its officials have repeatedly and publicly supported terrorism against Israel. 7amleh criticized Zoom for canceling an event hosting Leila Khaled, a hijacker and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated a terrorist group in the US, EU and Israel. The group lauded Sabri Khalil Al-Banna, leader of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, and deceased PFLP leader Ghassan Kanafani as “distinguished Palestinian personalities.”

Board member Neveen Abu Rahmoun called the barrage of Hamas rockets on Israel in May 2021 “the popular uprising,” saying that “all Palestinians have come together.” When the operation ended, Abu Rahmoun praised “Gaza the powerful… with their combative action, [they] surpassed the political leadership and returned to us the meaning of Palestinian togetherness.”

Human Rights Watch has long engaged in international campaigns against Israel, including labeling it an apartheid state, denying that Jewish people have the right of self-determination and calling for boycott campaigns against Israeli banks, sports teams and others. One of its founders famously criticized the organization for being obsessed with Israel, while not paying enough attention to major human rights violators.

Former HRW employees worked at Meta as it undertook the review of Israel-related content moderation. Director of Human Rights Policy Initiatives Iain Levine was HRW deputy executive director when it called for boycotts against Israel. While Director of Global Human Rights Policy Miranda Sissons was a researcher for HRW, she was arrested in a raid by Israeli security forces on the International Solidarity Movement’s offices after its activists met with a terrorist who carried out a suicide bombing.

Meta Human Rights Manager Gabrielle Guillemin was a lawyer at Article 19, an organization involved in the NGO campaign against the company’s content moderation policies during the May 2021 conflict, and was hired while the review of those policies was being conducted.

As part of its campaign against the policies, a 7amleh representative accompanied Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh to a meeting with Facebook Head of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg to lament “shrinking the Palestinian digital space and contributing to violating Palestinians’ human rights.” HRW sent letters to the same end to former colleagues Sissons and Levine. The organizations also petitioned the Oversight Board, as did other like-minded groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, claiming Facebook has an anti-Palestinian bias.

Facebook hired BSR, a consulting firm “focused on creating a world in which all people can thrive on a healthy planet” to review the impact of Meta’s policies in May 2021. It published its report titled “Human Rights Due Diligence of Meta’s Impacts in Israel and Palestine” in September 2022.

Despite mentioning the impact on Israel in its title, NGO Monitor found that “the degree to which affected Israeli rightsholders and stakeholders, particularly victims of rocket attacks from Gaza and violence within Israeli cities, were involved in any degree in writing this report is unclear.”

The Jerusalem Post independently corroborated that the report lacks information on this parameter, but learned that the Israeli Justice Ministry was informed about the process. BSR chose who to interview for the report, though Meta made recommendations, and those choices were kept confidential. Facebook Israel was not involved in the report.

NGO Monitor pointed out “the absence of information on this critical dimension, and the overall partisanship in BSR’s report, raising fundamental questions regarding the efficacy of this process.”

Though not directly involved in the report, Palmor said that when it comes to the Oversight Board process, Israelis must get more involved. She has appealed to NGOs, academics and government figures for the three years since the board was founded, and few have taken the time to send their comments on cases before the board.

“The Oversight Board wants stakeholder engagement on all topics,” Palmor said. “Israeli organizations are not interested and don’t participate. I tried over the years to interest different organizations and they were indifferent.”

Weeks after publication, 7amleh hosted BSR vice president Dunstan Allisan-Hope in a webinar where they acknowledged working together as the report was compiled. The NGO’s Advocacy Advisor Mona Shtaya said that she was in contact with Allison-Hope during BSR’s “independent evaluation,” and Allison-Hope said “a lot of credit must go to civil society organizations and activists” for forcing Meta’s response to the report.

HRW and 7amleh, together with three Palestinian NGOs designated as terrorist groups – Al-Haq, Addameer and DCI-P – signed a letter thanking BSR for its review.

BSR asserted in its report that Meta must avoid “reinforcing power asymmetries” because Israel “has greater administrative, financial, and military might vis-a-vis Palestinian political institutions.” The report does not make clear why the relative strength of the State of Israel compared to the Palestinian Authority should impact policies on incitement to violence or terrorism not carried out by the PA.

The consultancy company also fully adopts the Palestinian narrative, without any explanation of Israel’s side, claiming: “This outbreak occurred in the context of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and increased tensions relating to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the eviction of Palestinian communities.” The report says fighting was “triggered by protests in East Jerusalem over the eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” but not repeated Palestinian attacks on Jews during the period preceding the conflict and the role of Hamas incitement at the time.

BSR does mention WhatsApp groups “used by right-wing Israelis… to incite violence.” Its timeline states that Israeli police “enter Al-Aksa during prayer,” without noting the stockpiles of weapons in the mosque or attacks emanating from it. No reference is made to the lynching of Jewish Israelis or attacks on Jewish-owned businesses by Israeli Arabs.

The company also suggests that Meta allow posts praising Hamas, a terrorist group, if they were written in Gaza, because Hamas governs the area. The report characterizes such posts as “political content.”

Meta is currently evaluating BSR’s recommendations and plans to publish an update in the coming weeks.

NGO Monitor called on Meta to stop working with 7amleh and to no longer rely on its publications. In addition, the watchdog group said that the social media company should require consulting firms like BSR to publicize the names of the organizations with which they worked, in order to enable Meta to better evaluate their reports.

“This record seriously undermines the objectivity and credibility of Meta’s content moderation review and consulting processes, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said NGO Monitor president Prof. Gerald Steinberg. “It is unclear what, if any, mechanisms exist to ensure that organizations and individuals who post violent material to Facebook are disqualified from participating in and influencing policy-making consultations.

“In a wider sense, this analysis documents the degree to which policy-making at Meta is susceptible to influence by political advocacy NGOs,” Steinberg said. “Similarly, the company, including the Oversight Board – or partners such as BSR – do not appear to employ safeguards to avoid manipulation through partisan publications and statements promoted by politicized NGOs under context-determined normative labels such as human rights.”



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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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What went wrong with ‘the Metaverse’? An insider’s postmortem

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What went wrong with 'the Metaverse'? An insider's postmortem


It’s now two years since Facebook changed its name to Meta, ushering in a brief but blazing enthusiasm over “the Metaverse”, a concept from science fiction that suddenly seemed to be the next inevitable leap in technology. For most people in tech, however, the term has since lost its luster, seemingly supplanted by any product with “artificial intelligence” attached to its description. 

But the true story of the Metaverse’s rise and fall in public awareness is much more complicated and interesting than simply being the short life cycle of a buzzword — it also reflects a collective failure of both imagination and understanding.  

Consider:

The forgotten novel

Ironically, many tech reporters discounted or even ignored the profound influence of Snow Crash on actual working technologists. The founders of Roblox and Epic (creator of Fortnite) among many other developers were directly inspired by the novel. Despite that, Neal Stephenson’s classic cyberpunk tale has often been depicted as if it were an obscure dystopian tome which merely coined the term. As opposed to what it actually did: describe the concept with a biblical specificity that thousands of developers have referenced in their virtual world projects — many of which have already become extremely popular.

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Snow Crash.

You can see this lack of clarity in many of the mass tech headlines attempting to describe the Metaverse in the wake of Facebook’s name change: 

In a widely shared “obituary” to the Metaverse, Business Insider’s Ed Zitron even compounded the confusion still further by inexplicably misattributing the concept to TRON, the original Disney movie from the 80s.

Had the media referenced Snow Crash far more accurately when the buzz began, they’d come away with a much better understanding of why so many technologists are excited by the Metaverse concept — and realize its early incarnation is already gaining strong user traction.  

Because in the book, the Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world that’s simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools that are integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology. In other words, it’s more or less like Roblox and Fortnite — platforms with many tens of millions of active users. 

But then again, the tech media can’t be fully blamed for following Mark Zuckerberg’s lead.

Rather than create a vision for its Metaverse iterating on already successful platforms — Roblox’s 2020 IPO filing even describes itself as the metaverse — Meta’s executive leadership cobbled together a mishmash of disparate products. Most of which, such as remotely working in VR headsets, remain far from proven. According to an internal Blind survey, a majority of Zuckerberg’s own employees say he has not adequately explained what he means by the Metaverse even to them.

Grievous of all, Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth promoted a conception of the Metaverse in which the Quest headset was central. To do so, they had to overlook compelling evidence — raised by senior Microsoft researcher danah boyd at the time of the company acquiring Oculus in 2014 — that females have a high propensity to get nauseous using VR.

Meta Quest 3 comes out on October 10 for $500.
Meta Quest 3.

Contacted in late 2022 while writing Making a Metaverse That Matters, danah told me no one at Oculus or Meta followed up with her about the research questions she raised. Over the years, I have asked several senior Meta staffers (past and present) about this and have yet to receive an adequate reply. Unsurprisingly, Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset has an estimated install base of only about 20 million units, significantly smaller than the customer count of leading video game consoles. A product that tends to make half the population puke is not exactly destined for the mass market — let alone a reliable base for building the Metaverse. 

Ironically, Neal Stephenson himself has frequently insisted that virtual reality is absolutely not a prerequisite for the Metaverse, since flat screens display immersive virtual worlds just fine. But here again, the tech media instead ratified Meta’s flawed VR-centric vision by constantly illustrating articles about the Metaverse with photos of people happily donning headsets to access it — inadvertently setting up a straw man destined to soon go ablaze.

Duct-taped to yet another buzzword

Further sealing the Metaverse hype wave’s fate, it crested around the same time that Web3 and crypto were still enjoying their own euphoria period. This inevitably spawned the “cryptoverse” with platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox. When the crypto crash came, it was easy to assume the Metaverse was also part of that fall.

But the cryptoverse platforms failed in the same way that other crypto schemes have gone awry: By offering a virtual world as a speculative opportunity, it primarily attracted crypto speculators, not virtual world enthusiasts. By October of 2022, Decentraland was only tracking 7,000 daily active users, game industry analyst Lars Doucet informed me

“Everybody who is still playing is basically just playing poker,” as Lars put it. “This seems to be a kind of recurring trend in dead-end crypto projects. Kind of an eerie rhyme with left-behind American cities where drugs come in and anyone who is left is strung out at a slot machine parlor or liquor store.”

All this occurred as the rise of generative AI birthed another, shinier buzzword — one that people not well-versed in immersive virtual worlds could better understand.

But as “the Metaverse” receded as a hype totem, a hilarious thing happened: Actual metaverse platforms continued growing. Roblox now counts over 300 million monthly active users, making its population nearly the size of the entire United States; Fortnite had its best usage day in 6 years. Meta continues plodding along but seems to finally be learning from its mistakes — for instance, launching a mobile version of its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds.  

Roblox leads the rise of user-generated content.
Roblox.

Into this mix, a new wave of metaverse platforms is preparing to launch, refreshingly led by seasoned, successful game developers: Raph Koster with Playable Worlds, Jenova Chen with his early, successful forays into metaverse experiences, and Everywhere, a metaverse platform lead developed by a veteran of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

At some point, everyone in tech who co-signed the “death” of the Metaverse may notice this sustained growth. By then however, the term may no longer require much usage, just as the term “information superhighway” fell away as broadband Internet went mainstream.  

Wagner James Au is author of Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For 

GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.

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